Κυριακή, 22 Ιανουαρίου 2017

Pope’s global agenda threatened by rising tide of populism



20/1/2017

By James Politi

Trump victory and Brexit vote pose challenge to causes pontiff seeks to advance

Pope Francis lost little time in appealing to Donald Trump after the new US president took office.

In a letter of congratulation, the Pope called for Mr Trump to show the US’s compassionate side, writing: “Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”

But the pontiff looks like one of the losers from a rising tide of populism sweeping western democracies, including Mr Trump’s election and the Brexit vote in the UK.

The brand of politics that has prospered over the past 12 months threatens his priorities, such as the fight against climate change and better treatment of migrants — causes he has sought to advance using his global popularity.

Edward Pentin, the Vatican correspondent for the weekly National Catholic Register, said: “The mood in the west seems to be moving away from the issues that Pope Francis holds close to him politically and that would be of concern to him.”

The Pope has sought to put on a brave face on the turn of world events. “In today’s climate of general apprehension for the present, and uncertainty and anxious concern for the future, I feel it is important to speak a word of hope,” the Argentine pontiff told a group of ambassadors this month in the Sala Regia, a frescoed 16th-century hall near the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

But the shift in the tide is also affecting the Catholic church itself.

For the Pope, the danger may be that conservative clerics, who have opposed his reformist position on social issues such as allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion, will be reinforced.

In November, the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia or the Joy of Love, came under attack from four dissident cardinals who took the rare step of formally questioning its conclusions.

The pontiff has also been in a stand-off with the Knights of Malta, the Catholic humanitarian order, after he called for an investigation into the sacking of its grand chancellor after allegations that a branch of the order distributed thousands of condoms in Myanmar.

“There are a lot of people within the church who are not comfortable about speaking out about the changes that are going on now. But the fact that there seems to be a popular move towards conservative positions, I think, will give them strength,” says one person close to Vatican critics of the Pope.







The biggest source of angst for the Pope may be on migration. Since being elected to the helm of the Catholic church nearly four years ago, the Pontiff has emerged as one of the world’s strongest advocates for migrants to be welcomed into western societies.

He has made high-profile visits to the Mediterranean islands of Lampedusa and Lesbos, as well as the Mexican border with the US, and has even arranged for some refugees to be housed within the walls of Vatican City.

But both Brexit and the Trump victory — in which US Catholics narrowly backed the Republican nominee, according to exit polls — show the difficulty the Pope is facing in influencing public opinion, and even his own flock.

Vatican officials say that even so, Pope Francis is likely to continue pressing the issue. “Of course, there are very troubling signs, but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions,” said Father Michael Czerny, a Canadian Jesuit priest appointed by the Pope to run migration policy for the Vatican.

Fr Czerny said there was no evidence that senior clerics were pushing back against the Pope’s positions on migration. “At least in the US, the bishops are very determined to stand with the people who are coming and the people who have already come.”

The other big global push by Pope Francis that could be at risk is on climate change. In June 2015, the Argentine pontiff published an encyclical that called to protect the environment. The paper was timed to help countries sign the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions. But if the Trump administration decided to back off from some of the US commitments, it would represent a huge setback for the Pope.

The Pope may draw comfort from a poll this week by the Pew Research Center that showed his approval rating remains high, at 70 per cent among Americans as a whole and 87 per cent among US Catholics.

Close observers of the Vatican say the Pope would not have been caught off guard by rising populism. Since his election, Pope Francis has frequently warned of the growing disconnect between poor and middle-class voters and their elected representatives, and spoken about the dangers of globalisation and unfettered free markets.

He has also warned EU leaders that they were struggling to live up to the vision of the blocs’ founders. “He sees Trump and Brexit as part of a contemporary drama which he has long recognised and long understood,” said Austen Ivereigh, a biographer of Pope Francis.

Some Vatican observers say that the Pope has reacted to the changing mood with a more nuanced view on migration that still emphasises the need to welcome refugees, but stresses the challenges of integration.

Yet a big retreat from his global agenda is unlikely.

“Francis would be happy to be a prophetic voice, even if world events appear to be moving against him,” said Christopher Lamb, the Vatican correspondent for The Tablet, a UK Catholic weekly. “I think there is still a world listening to his positions: he has great credibility with the vast majority of Catholics and he’s an authentic figure, which counts for a huge amount.”

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